Dog Days

The hot dog – that all-American mystery meat – is a polarizing subject loved by some, hated by others with a vehemence often reserved for Jimmy Buffett or smartphones. Ignatius J. Reilly ate more than he sold. H. L. Mencken hated them and espoused anti-weenie diatribes in the Baltimore Post, positing that the youth of his day would grow up to venerate the hot dog stand the way his generation had the saloon. How wrong he was – or maybe right. I have seen a lot of drunks dress up as hot dogs on Halloween, anyway. Love it or hate it, the hot dog is a cultural symbol of summer barbecues, baseball games, the growing threat of childhood obesity and now, even of gourmands.

Dat Dog is a tiny new eatery on Freret Street that has more dogs on the menu than seating for its customers. Thanks to sidewalk tables, a funky vibe, fast service and a take-out option, the experience is still highly enjoyable. The real reason Mencken hated hot dogs had to do with the abominable cheap bread that was (and still is) the staple of stands, snack bars and most chain restaurants, plus the lack of creativity in toppings and the poor quality of meat.

Dat Dog has addressed these issues, and the result is a small oasis for the sausage enthusiast. The bread is a soft sourdough that’s steamed then toasted on a grill, the outsides crisp and darkened, but the bread itself thick, fluffy and fresh. Cheese comes melted onto the bun, rather than shredded on top of the hot dog. A slew of toppings from traditional kraut, slaw, chili and onion, to a more adventurous wasabi, guacamole and andouille sauce, can make your hot dog into whatever you want it to be. The dogs are high-quality local and imported sausages and wieners.

The crawfish sausage is from “the swamp,” with a nice crispiness on the outside that leads to the tender, flavorful meat inside, much heartier than I expected. There is also a spicy sausage from Harahan and an alligator sausage from “the bayou,” obviously not the one near City Park or else we’d more likely be tasting duck. Sides of fries, cheese fries or chili cheese fries cost extra, but are worth it. The servings easily feed two. Dat Dog is exactly what a hot dog place should be, simple and delicious with sodas in the cooler and enough room for a cashier to
take your money and a chef to make your meal.

In the CBD, Cochon Butcher hand makes their own hot dogs and, like all of their house-made meats, it’s the schnitzel, ya heard me? The French bread bun is buttered and placed on a griddle; it’s crispy and greasy on the outside like garlic bread without the garlic, but nice and soft on the inside. The hot dog can come “all the way” with house-made chili, onion, mustard and slaw, but you can also add homemade pimento cheese that’s essential to attaining hot dog synergy. I am not always a fan of chili on hot dogs, the same way I’m not a fan of layering a sweatshirt over a sweatshirt. Then there are people like my mom, who layer sweatshirts and even carry along a parka in case the air conditioning is too cold. These are “more is better” people, chili people. Sometimes chili is necessary in attaining wiener synergy, but in this case there were toppings that stood to lose some gusto if smothered in it, so I chose the pimento cheese all the way in lieu of the chili. Sad day, I know, but then again, I didn’t have to wear a bib to eat the thing.

Bud’s Broiler in Mid-City is almost as famous as Halle Berry, having appeared alongside her in Monster’s Ball.

The hot dogs here are very unusual, but very tasty, sliced in half length-wise, grilled and served on a hamburger bun. The chili and cheese hot dog is a better alternative to getting a tattoo or eloping for those dressed as hot dogs at two in the morning. The hot dog with hickory-smoked sauce is a sweeter regret for the lunchtime crowd, but you may want to take the stairs afterward.

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